Monday, March 3, 2008

To Have or Not to Have

By Mary Stosich

When I awoke that morning, I quietly lay in my king-size bed between sheets soft as silk and a fluffed goose-down comforter. I sneakily crept out of bed. Just had to have some time to myself without a taskmaster. At 5:30 AM there’s not much competition for my attention.

I opened the back door. A piece of the moon still hung in the morning sky and a delicate, soft light began to hint at daybreak. Giant pots of flowers—my answer to the impossibility of gardening in clay soil—adorned my patio. I sat amongst them and watched the leaves of the quakies twinkle and shiver in the morning breeze. It was my best effort to bring a bit of nature closer to me before the phone rang, the microwave beeped, the keyboard clickity-clicked and the traffic bunched up at the light before the freeway entrance.

Just a day before, I had been entranced by a documentary about the Baka—a primitive tribe in New Zealand, still independent from the rest of the world. No clock, no pavement, not even an electrical outlet. They worked side by side, raised their babies, hunted and gathered—all in a hidden, luxurious world of jungle. I thought of my contrasting life. I wondered at the costs of “having” and “not having.”

Today my life’s fullness somehow evokes a melancholy strain of important emptiness. So important that most cannot call it emptiness. It is a life empty of wasted effort or callused hands, but still filled with busy things. It is even empty of slow time that brings on thought and gratitude.

I have been trying to make up for a lack of nature’s peace and beauty that has been stripped from my neighborhood of curb and gutter. I hung a beautiful picture on our wall. It is an ocean scene with high, green waves that splash over rock. Palm trees fade into purple jagged, tropical mountains. I want to climb into the picture and enjoy the beauty first hand—like the Baka.

All this allows a flood of memory—my father’s wish for me: “Marry a farmer. The earth helps you to be happy.” That was an unlikely wish to come from an inventor and machinist who worked twelve hours a day in a cinder-block shop, whose view of blue sky and grazing cattle was cropped by a welding hood.

Well, Dad, not everyone can marry a farmer. Not everyone can love and wrestle with a big chunk of earth. But I’ve tried to make some acceptable substitutions. A little grassy plot of dirt where I grow tomatoes. Pink cosmos flying in the summer air and a couple of apple trees. I am the owner of a rototiller, garden tools and yet another convenience that would amaze you Dad, a sprinkling system. It all saves wasted effort and callused hands

Again, I keep trying for that old fashioned goodness. Oatmeal (zapped in the microwave), whole wheat bread (from the bakery), and even family prayer together. It’s a jungle out there and it’s not always safe. Off to face the day—danger and fatigue—all part of life.
Blessed Baka. No radio alarm, but the whooping of wild things calls you from your mat on the hard floor You awaken every morning to sweet jungle air and the sight of vines, leaves as big as your chest and the sound of a river somewhere close. You feel the oozing between your toes and know that today the forest will give you something. You have no closet but wear a sarong that maybe you dyed from roots and painted with stains from tree bark. A hand-woven basket on your head carried everything you need. You and your family share a wild sweet potato, fresh from the earth.

Time doesn’t boss you around. No need to wear a watch and check it often. When you feel to rest you sit down. When you feel to dance you make your music. When you feel hungry you search. But, it’s a jungle out there and it’s not always safe. You face the day—danger and fatigue—all part of life.

Ultrasound. It’s a girl!
“Take these vitamins. See you next month.”
There is a shot for that pain.
There now. Do you feel better?
Baby under stress. Move fast!
Everything sterile.
Baby rescued from the heaving abdomen.
Placed in plastic incubator.
Monitors show progress.
Both lives are spared.

Baka, mash the roots and herbs.
Wisely rub the smooth skin of mother’s swollen belly.
Sing your prayers
While mama groans
And tears roll.
Will you hear healthy cries?
Or will the forest floor open for your still child?

There are fantastic differences between the life of the Baka people and the society in which I live. The obvious industry, medicine, technology and travel make only a part. Where they work together for their survival, we do our “my job, your job” deal. Where they weave a mat, stake a shelter or spear a fish, we push the button, flip the switch and bank online. Where they retell tales and hand down treasured words, we pop in a video, and then try to explain the funny, foul or beautiful. The Baka live lives rich in work.

My joy? Well, even in ambivalent progress, where I find detriment, I also find blessings. I am the grateful recipient of life-saving medications and procedures; the technology to learn about the world and communicate with loved ones that our society has split from us; and our culture with its artists, musicians and writers. I admit that I even enjoy a good shopping spree. But somewhere I have lost a little of that quiet sense, and the Baka remind me to be still and let nature comfort me.

I do remember helping my mother hang the wash on the line and then gathering in the crisp, fresh sheets. I would bury my nose in their scent as I flung them over my shoulders. Mother and I folded them together—lining up the corners just right. I can’t remember anything she said then, but I remember she was there with me. It was a demand of “wasted effort” that afforded me a memory of the most important woman in my life. When I became older, she counseled me, “Don’t ever make your children work alone. Work by their sides.”

I am thrilled to rid my life of drudgery. If I think of losing my washer and dryer, I feel nauseous. Hanging the wash on the line is one job I replaced with giving my children piano lessons. That replacement has been a blessing of value and opportunity. Although my children didn’t smell the sheets, perhaps they will speak of a memory of counting and naming notes while we sat together on the piano bench.

I have learned that God provides a way for all his children to link together in valuable experiences. Those in the sky-rise apartment, those on a rural farm, those in deep, untouched jungles and even those in my curb and gutter town have the opportunity to live life rich in meaning and purpose. It is a great manifestation of His love for us. The outcome seems to be in our own attitude, will and focus. In that “wasted effort” we might actually find ourselves to be a little Baka-ish, with more peace, contentment and memories of love.


Kimberly Jensen said...

I enjoyed your post. I love nature as well and find every moment to enjoy it side by side with my children, without a clock.

Linda said...

Wild Onions

Every morning Alan climbs the steep hill behind our house with Ahti, his Karelian Bear Dog who strains at the leash chasing scents left by resident gophers, foxes, and deer. Knowing I'm a wildflower enthusiast, he reported to me a few days ago that he'd seen miniature, pinkish-purple flower clusters hugged close to the ground all over the top half of the ridgeline. I had extensive back surgery 18 months ago that left me with partial paralysis in one of my legs, rendering such a climb impractical, at best, for me. "Oh, how I'd love to see them myself!" I responded, wishing I, too, could go on those uphill walks.

That evening when I was sitting at my desk, engrossed in a frustrating phone conversation with an airline reservations agent, he quietly entered the room waiting patiently for my conversation to end. But not wanting to be disturbed I waved him off. Later I realized he'd been standing there, coat and flap-eared hat still on, holding a shovel full of dirt. He'd climbed the hill again, this time for me, and returned with an offering of enthusiasm and love: wild dwarf onions! gorgeous!

Today he came down the hill with a new shovel full. They were different wildflowers which looked suspiciously like a beautiful specimen I had discovered some years ago in the mountains, and was appropriately called "woodland star."

"Lithophragma Parviflorum!" I exclaimed, “At least that’s what it looks like . . . except it’s smaller and not as white. The petals have a transparent quality unlike the ones in Garden Valley. I’ll have to look it up!”

I thought this fragile flower only grew in a moist forest, so imagine my excitement to discover it in my own backyard! I did my research and sure enough, Saxifragaceae family, same genus and species, under the correct conditions this wildflower also appears early spring in the northwest on prairies and dry foothills, and is also known there as the “prairie star” wildflower. Beauty in lush woods and on dry hillsides . . . what a manifestation of God's love for us!

These high-desert Boise foothills in Fall seem barren of any growth except sage, rabbit brush, and dry grasses. Yet spring blooms earliest here, providing rare beauty and hope to those who are willing to climb them. More beautiful still (and rare), than the wild flora of these hills, is the climber himself who makes a 2nd trip back up the hill with a shovel, just to bring back prairie stars and wild onions for another who cannot climb.

Linda Hart